War of words between Israel and Poland after Poland passes law limiting WWII property restitution claims

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On Thursday evening, the Polish Parliament passed an amendment to the administrative procedure codex that drew the ire of Israel’s embassy in Warsaw, which claims the new amendment will effectively prevent the restitution of Jewish property or financial compensation for Holocaust victims.

According to the new regulations, 30 years after the issuing of an administrative decision, it will be impossible to question a ruling through legal procedures.

Soon after the passing of the bill, Israel’s embassy in Warsaw released a statement in which it criticized the amendment.

“The currently proceeded change to the bill will in essence prevent the restitution of Jewish property or application for financial compensation by Holocaust survivors, their descendants and the Jewish community for whom Poland was home for centuries. This is incomprehensible,” the embassy wrote.

“This immoral law will undermine the relations between our countries. We seriously approach attempts to prevent the restitution of property stolen from Jews in Europe by Nazis and their collaborators to their rightful owners. Poland knows what the right move is in this case,” it added.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also strongly criticized the new law, with his statements on the matter covered in the Israeli paper the Jerusalem Post. The head of news at Polish public television TVP, Jarosław Olechowski, referred to the article on Twitter.

“In Jersualem Post’s article the word GERMANY does not appear. Meanwhile the words Poland, Poles, Nazis and the Holocaust appear numerous times. Just like in Yair Lapid’s statement itself,” he wrote.

The embassy’s statement and Lapid’s comments caused an avalanche of other critical comments on the Polish Twitter sphere.

“Accept the fact that Poland belongs to the sphere of Latin civilization and as part of it, social order is built on the individual law of ownership, not the ethnic one. In the case of a lack of inheritors of a particular Polish citizen, the property goes to the state and not to you,” Confederation politician Krzysztof Bosak wrote.

“Israel writing about morality is like Russia writing about human rights,” Dariusz Matecki, a politician and president of the Anti-Polish Monitoring Center, stated.

“I’m fascinated by the sentence about ‘Nazis and their collaborators’. Who nationality were these ‘Nazis’? Poland, with the exception of some individual cases, did not collaborate with ‘Nazis’ and belonged to the group of ‘Nazi’ victims along with Polish citizens of Jewish faith,” Rafał Dudkiewicz pointed out.

Minister Kaleta: There is no Polish guilt

Deputy Minister of Justice Sebastian Kaleta explained in the interview for portal wPolityce.pl what the new amendment to the bill actually entailed and what its aims were.

“The bill is meant to restrict the period for applying for restitution claims. When it comes to processes which were not completed due to the lack of pre-war inheritors — the so-called heirless property — the bill is meant to amortize them. For millions of Poles this will eliminate the time of eternal uncertainty about whether a real or (as it sometimes happened in Warsaw) fake heir or curator will appear to make demands to their home, school or field,” he said.

Kaleta believes that “Israel is conducting policy which is meant to force Poland to pay for the property of Polish citizens who did not leave behind descendants and died as a result of the German Holocaust”.

“With no basis, they are trying to convince others that Poles have supposed guilt and have to pay for that period. The truth is the opposite. The issue of restitution is the direct result of not the Holocaust, but of giving Poland over into the hands of communists and the lack of reparations from Germany. The actual addressee of Israel’s demands should be Germany, which Israel is currently referring to as the mythical ‘Nazis’,” the minister explained.

Poland was home to one of the world’s biggest Jewish communities until it was almost entirely wiped out by the Nazis during World War Two. Jewish former property owners and their descendants have been campaigning for compensation since the fall of communism in 1989.

In 2015, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that there must be a deadline set, after which faulty administrative decisions can no longer be challenged. In March, a parliamentary committee proposed a bill to implement with deadlines ranging from 10 to 30 years.

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